Introducing The New Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa — The Tech Diver’s Dive Watch
Today, on white sands by the crystalline waters of the Rangiroa Atoll in French Polynesia, Blancpain unveiled the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the birth of what many recognize as the first modern dive watch, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Since 1953, watches and diving have both come a long way. This should not come as a surprise, as seven decades are enough to bring change to just about anything. Today, the brand behind the timepieces on the wrists of those brave enough to venture underwater in the early 1950s launches a watch designed for the pioneers in the field today. With how far scuba diving and all the associated technology have come since those early days, it only makes sense to create a watch that reflects that growth and development.
We already know that the Fifty Fathoms turns 70 this year. But there’s another significant anniversary to celebrate, and that’s the birth of Gombessa Expeditions. The Gombessa project consists of a series of scientific research expeditions. These are spearheaded by Laurent Ballesta — marine biologist, underwater photographer (three-time Wildlife Photographer of the Year award winner), and pioneer deep diver — and are part of Blancpain’s conservation efforts (therefore undersigned and economically supported by the Le Brassus brand). This should come as no surprise, given the fact that the brand’s president and CEO Marc Hayek is a passionate scuba diver, much like Jean-Jacques Fiechter (Blancpain’s CEO in the 1950s) was back in his day. The same fascination for this parallel world that exists under our planet’s oceans and that led to the creation of a world first now drives the brand’s latest innovation — a dive watch specifically designed for closed-circuit tech divers.
Reinventing the dive watch
What better way to pay tribute to the original dive watch than to reinvent it for the modern diver? The first step in celebrating this big anniversary came earlier this year with the release of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 70th Anniversary Series I. Taking the dive watch back to the drawing board is a bold move but a move that makes a lot of sense. After all, diving at its highest level today is wildly different from what it was seven decades ago. The popularity of rebreather technology and its development since its creation in the mid-’90s mean that even hobbyist divers can enjoy hours underwater. Whereas most recreational dives will rarely involve staying underwater for more than an hour, the Gombessa expedition divers spend close to three hours underwater, rendering the traditional 60-minute scale less than useful.
The Gombessa expeditions take place over several years and involve countless hours of extended underwater exposure for those taking part. Therefore, creating a timekeeping tool suitable for the task certainly makes sense. Truthfully, the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa will likely serve more as a (potentially life-saving) backup to the divers’ digital dive computers. Nevertheless, it pays a worthy tribute to the watch that started it all, one without which diving would never have been as (relatively) safe as it became with its invention. This is not insignificant and ultimately resulted in the sport’s advancement and popularity. This new model nods to the original yet also meets all the requirements of the most extreme divers today. How exactly does the watch achieve this? I’ll do my best to explain. One thing is clear: much like Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms X, this is not your average desk diver.
Tackling new problems with an innovative spirit
Conceived by Hayek and Ballesta, the concept for the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa has now been around for five years. Since the two devised this (now patented) world-first innovation in 2019, it has undergone rigorous testing. It’s hard to think of a better context in which to test the most advanced and capable dive watches than on the wrists of the divers taking part in the Gombessa expeditions. It was in this context that the idea was born, brought to maturity, and tested exhaustively. In essence, what the two devised was a watch that could track elapsed dive times of up to three hours. A traditional dive watch with a 60-minute scale only has a one-hour limit. But with a new bezel with a three-hour scale and an extra hand that makes one full revolution of the dial every three hours, that problem is a thing of the past.
Thanks to the combination of the three-hour hand and bezel, tech divers can now track dives lasting up to 180 minutes. But bringing this vision to reality was no simple task and required a brand-new movement. This is where the Blancpain 13P8 self-winding caliber — a 35-jewel movement tested to six positions with a 120-hour power reserve — came in. With a new bezel and a new movement with a unique three-hour hand, the watch could unlock a new concept for underwater timekeeping. Then came the time to design the watch into which these elements would be integrated. And I will say this: desk divers, beware. This is not a dive watch for those who max out at 38mm. This is a tool for underwater professionals, not one you’ll likely wear when sitting in the office or taking your bike on a coffee run (though you certainly could).
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa
Looking at the watch, you’ll instantly recognize plenty of the Fifty Fathoms DNA. But the new Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa is a new species altogether. This starts with the 47mm case made of Grade 23 titanium, a material also known as Grade 5 ELI (extra low interstitials), in other words, the purest form of the metal. In typical titanium fashion, this means that the watch is exceptionally strong, extremely light, and hypoallergenic. The watch is water resistant to 300m (30 bar) and has a helium escape valve. The movement is visible through a sapphire case back. All things considered, the 14.81mm thickness is rather reasonable, and it comes in under both the Black Bay Pro and the Omega Seamaster 300M Bond 60th Anniversary dive watch. Will I ever call a 47mm watch wearable? Probably not. But the watch remains relatively slim and lightweight.
Let’s talk about the bezel. Fifty Fathoms models have typically been equipped with sapphire bezel inserts. These echo the glossy Bakelite bezels of the original watches from the ’50s and ’60s. However, to give the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa a more purposeful appearance, Blancpain’s designers opted for a black ceramic insert. The numerals and markings on the unidirectional bezel match the tip of the three-hour hand (and the seconds hand). These are executed in a white luminescent material that glows with a green hue. The bezel’s insert has a more pronounced inward curve toward the dial, forming a concave bowl-like shape. The dial, which is executed in a 97% light-absorbing “absolute black,” is endowed with applied numeral markers carved out of solid orange luminescent material, which emits a blue glow. This orange tone matches the minute track and hour and minute hands.
You’ll have noticed, looking at the watch, that there’s a distinct lack of lugs. This is because of the “central lug” attachment system, which Blancpain debuts in this model. The sharply ridged integrated rubber strap attaches from the underside with two screws. This goes on the long list of details that add to the comfortable wearing experience. Again, it’s no surprise that the watch is full of small details, beautifully integrated to make a big difference to its wearers. This is likely due to the extensive testing carried out on prototypes, which found their home on the wrist of Ballesta and Hayek. Four prototypes even accompanied a team of aquanauts who spent 50 days at depths 120 meters below the Mediterranean. This took place in 2019 and 2021 during the Gombessa V and Gombessa VI missions, the first expeditions ever to combine the use of rebreathers with saturation diving.
Another detail is the spherical sapphire crystal, which minimizes distortion of the dial underwater and increases its legibility. The two different colors used in the luminescent material also help to distinguish the different time-telling elements. Even the helium valve was tested during said expeditions, with divers expressing a preference for it to match the design of the watch’s main crown. On the back, the skeletonized rotor is signed with the Gombessa logo. The case back itself has also been reworked for optimal robustness, with a beveled edge and improved notches for the opening tool. The Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa is delivered in a special water- and shock-resistant Peli case, which can be reused and reconfigured with the tools included. The case houses the watch, a strap extension, a pouch, and a loupe. It’s clear that this was a passion project for Blancpain, and even the smallest detail attests to it.
And there you have it — the new Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa. But this is not just the announcement of a new dive watch from the brand that invented the dive watch (or one of the earliest versions). It’s also the announcement of a brand-new line of products. Blancpain debuts its new Tech line with the Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa, a line dedicated to all of the brand’s watches created for tech diving. All arguments on the relevance of mechanical diving aside, I must say that it’s never a bad thing to see people with overlapping passions taking on a new challenge. The price of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Tech Gombessa will be approximately €28,500, depending on your local VAT. For more information, please consult the Blancpain website.
The watch world is a big one, yet it remains niche compared to some larger hobbies. And the world of scuba diving (beyond recreational diving) is certainly one in which only a hugely passionate few exist. So you can imagine the overlap is just about as niche as it gets. But if their efforts result in incredible underwater conservation and research projects like Gombessa and a watch as incredibly cool as this, then at the end of the day, we are all winners.